Janet wrote an article in 1977

I have been catching up on sleep and busily doing the many things that I need to do to leave Reno and get back to Snohomish so that then I can get done there and get back to Alegria.

Thanks for all of the many wonderful emails, and comments, but as you guessed, the Blog will be my method of answering for now. I dream that someday I can answer each email and I am very uncomfortable that there are many that do not yet even know what has happened. Please help me to tell our friends.

I think that I will use Janet’s bookkeeping method. Get out her old and worn and very full, address book and start at the beginning and address one email at a time, checking them off as I go. But, not for a while.

I did make time to transcribe an article that Janet wrote in 1977. Some dear friends proofed it for me this morning (many thanks for that). The original printed version had many errors that even I could see. And if I can find them, then you have a real problem with the English Language. <wink> And then too, some of my ‘improvements’ were sloppy.

This was published in Pacific Skipper. “The cruising magazine of the Pacific.” Special issue, June 1978.

The first sentence is now especially ironic and tugs strongly at my heart, but I left it in. I did make a very few minor changes to the text. And, the text is describing things in 1977. They may be different there now, but there was no GPS back then. We used celestial,dead reckoning, with a taffrail log and compass. We had the US best chart for that part of the coast at the time. 18700, which is still the only chart I think. But it is about 3 or 4 miles to the inch. Not good enough for our needs.

The title “Once is Enough” is in homage to Beryl Smeaton and her story of being swept overboard near Cape Horn. We’d read their books and had the honor of meeting Miles and Beryl twice.

Once Is Enough

By Janet Erken

All of us, I think, believe ourselves to be somewhat immortal and therefore tend to feel we’re strong, fairly surefooted and certainly not going to fall off our boats. Especially not in nice weather. Well, I have been swept overboard and once is enough.

In the Fall of 1977, we were sailing south down the coast of California, about 5 miles offshore. There were five of us onboard. It was a glorious day, with a nice, but light, following wind most of the day. Very small wind waves, but a large swell. And we planned to anchor at San Simeon, but due to the light wind, we were late in arriving.

About five in the afternoon, the fog rolled in. We decided we couldn’t possibly find San Simeon in the fog because there was only a lighted buoy there. However, about 6 miles north of San Simeon is Piedras Blancas, where there was a buoy in 60 feet of water, with a foghorn, a lighthouse and a radio beacon. There was no useful chart of that area, but the Coast Pilot talked about a good anchorage just to the south of the lighthouse. That seemed to be the logical anchorage to try to find in the fog. We found the buoy by zeroing in on the radio beacon and following the 10 fathom line. But, by now, it was quite dark.

The buoy sits about a mile and a half southwest of the lighthouse. From the buoy, we bagged the sails, started the engine and headed on a bearing towards the lighthouse with the idea that if we didn’t see it in a mile we would turn back. At a mile we still hadn’t seen the lighthouse but it was still 280 feet deep, so we continued slowly inching our way, northeast, towards the lighthouse. About a quarter of a mile later we saw the light but at that same moment we saw breakers right ahead of us. Dave was below calling out the depths, which were suddenly getting shallow – 80 feet – 50 feet – 30 feet – 15 feet – 7 feet all in the space of about five seconds. The helm was hard over and we were in reverse trying to turn and stay off the rock. But, from the starboard beam we saw an enormous breaker! My first thought was, “My God, it’s all over!” The next awareness I had was rolling through the breaker and wondering if I could hold my breath long enough to surface. Obviously I did, and when I surfaced I saw the boat still afloat, mast and all, about 30 yards away. At the time, I was wearing a pair of jeans, warm-up pants, foul weather boots, two pairs of wool socks, a T-shirt, two wool sweaters, a fiber-filled jacket and a foul weather rain jacket. Needless to say, swimming was difficult. And, I had severely sprained my arm.

I called out for help, not knowing if anyone was left on board to help. Then I remembered I had a flashlight in my pocket, but when I turned it on it didn’t work. I thought that I was going to die and my parents would be so upset! I began yelling with renewed vigor. After a few moments the flashlight began to work and that is how Dave was able to locate me. I also had a flotation device in my pocket which was supposed to inflate when it got wet. It did just that, but had no place to expand in the pocket so it popped. However, I wasn’t aware of that until much later, and my jacket had a little air trapped in it and that did give me some buoyancy. Eventually, I discovered that the current had carried me into a large kelp patch and my legs were becoming thoroughly entangled in it as I was treading water.

Meanwhile back on the boat – everyone else was still on board – below decks was wet and a shambles. The floorboards were about 6 inches below water, but they did not know if the hull had hit the rock and was leaking. The boat had carried on into deep water for the moment, so rather than find a second ‘Surprise Rock’ they anchored immediately on short scope and began bailing. When noses were counted and they discovered I was gone, Dave first thought that he would need to swim through the breakers to get to me. He grabbed two life jackets and jumped into the water… and out again as it was so cold he couldn’t even catch his breath. He then realized that because I had drifted one way and the boat had continued the other before anchoring, there were now no breakers between me and the boat. So, they put the dinghy in the water. After discovering one oar had been broken, Dave sat in the bow and sculled our tiny, six foot, 8 inch long, fiberglass dinghy out to me.

By now I’d been in the water about 10 or 15 minutes. I was exhausted and I realized I couldn’t save myself by swimming the now, perhaps one hundred yards to the boat. Needless to say, I was terrified. I had strange thoughts; “Why isn’t my life flashing before my eyes? I’ve lost my ring. If this is really the end, make it fast. I’m so exhausted.”

Suddenly I heard Dave yelling to me to hang on, help was on the way. Oh God, what a relief. When he arrived I just hung onto the transom and rested. Becoming aware of the breakers and the terrifying sound they were making, I kept looking over my shoulder to see if one was going to break over me. After resting a few moments, I tried to pull myself into the dinghy but couldn’t. Normally I weigh about 115 pounds but with all that wet clothing and the 30 inch diameter ball of kelp around my ankles, I must’ve weighed 200 pounds. Finally I was pulled over the transom by Dave, somehow without tipping the dinghy over, but the freeboard went down to about 4 inches. Dave got the kelp off my legs and we paddled back toward the boat and yelled, “How’s Alegría?”

Brad was on the bridge deck, pouring the bucket of water over the side and handing it back to Mike who was in the galley, so he asked Mike. Then Brad yelled back to us, “We’re sinking!”

I asked Dave, “So, what now?”

He said, “I guess we inflate the life raft. Save as much as we can, and then try to survive getting to the beach in this mess.” The surf on the beach would be huge.

But then Brad yelled, “We are OK!”

It turned out that Brad had asked Mike, “How’s it going?”

Mike had had only one thought for some time: With Mike bailing and Olga pumping, was the water rising or lowering, relative to the spot on the drawers that was the water level when he began? When Brad asked, “How’s it going?” He checked and said, “It’s going down.” Meaning the water level inside the boat. Brad had naturally misunderstood.

Again, I needed help climbing aboard with the unaccustomed weight of the wet clothes I was wearing. When I was at last safe I began to feel cold. My badly sprained arm began to ache and I could feel the major bruising on my thighs where I had been pulled over the hard transom while the kelp pulled at my legs. I suppose I went into shock then, because all I could do was stand there and shake. Eventually I got out of my clothes and into one of the very few dry bunks to try to thaw out.

Everyone else finished bailing and putting the chaos in relative order so we could walk around. Fortunately, the engine had kept running, even though at the worst, the water was right up to, and coming into the air intake. We upped anchor and headed to Morro Bay. Dangerous, but I just could not stand the sound of the surf for about a year after that, and not at all on that night.

I’m aware that someone else’s horror story may not be enough to encourage one to wear a life jacket and/or clip into a safety line, but I have learned. Please learn from my experience and not your own. I will always clip in, after dark and in heavy weather. Even when I am on deck at sea, alone. I probably won’t normally wear a standard life jacket because I find them cumbersome and uncomfortable. I prefer SOSpenders, but you’ll not find me in that water again watching my boat slowly move away. Once is enough!

This is why we stopped going into anywhere after sun down, that we did not know personally and very, VERY well. The very few exceptions were with a very good harbor chart, that is running on the computer using GPS, for sure NO FOG, and with our guts churning. There have been very few exceptions over the many years.

We usually just slow down and stand well off until dawn. Surprise rocks in poorly charted areas, the tuna nets in the Med, fish traps, and crab or lobster pots with the floats painted black, the list goes on. Wait for the sun to come up.

Fair winds and following seas,



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